Thirty-four years ago Vince McMahon gambled pretty much his entire business future on a bold new concept adroitly dubbed WrestleMania, where a series of pro wrestling matches between top names in his newly expanding national promotion were intertwined with appearances by mainstream stars of music, sports and television at one of the world’s most famous venues, Madison Square Garden and farmed out to various locations across the country (including the Shikellamy Fieldhouse in Sunbury where my future wife and I took in the spectacle) via giant closed-circuit television screens.
To say the grand experiment has been a success would be like saying the 1927 Yankees had a pretty decent lineup is a bit of an understatement. Tonight in East Rutherford, New Jersey in the shadow of New York City, eighty thousand fans (including several from the Shamokin-Coal Township area) paying a live gate that may for the first time ever top the $20 million mark and millions more across the world watching on the company’s own streaming network will get to see WrestleMania XXXV(35).
The card is scheduled to include 16 matches, nine of them with titles on the line, and though much longer, will very much mirror the formula from the first Mania that had no Roman numeral (shades of the SuperBowl) behind it at the time because there was no great confidence that there would necessarily be a WM #2. Vince McMahon is now a billionaire and WrestleMania is a true global phenomenon that finds cities vying for it each year for the status and economic boost it brings. McMahon now insists wrestlers be called WWE Superstars and the business in which they work be referred to as sports entertainment, points of considerable irritation for some long-time fans.
At the first WM, there were nine matches with celebrities like Mr. T wrestling, Cindi Lauper managing Wendi Richter, Muhammad Ali refereeing, baseball manager Billy Martin as a guest ring announcer and Liberace as a timekeeper. Tonight, Yolanda Williams will kick things off with “America the Beautiful” and Joan Jett is scheduled to play her song “Bad Reputation” for Ronda Rousey’s entrance music. Saturday Night Live stars are in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and main event players Charlotte Flair, Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch rang the closing bell on Wall Street at the New York Stock Exchange late last week. WWE personalities have been in full media blitz mode all over the greater New York area in recent days, despite the show having been sold out for months except for secondary market tickets that are being re-sold in some places at prices much higher than original steep face values, but the company does not benefit from that.
The go home Raw and Smackdown television shows this past week continued to build for the match-ups tonight. WWE apparently called upon its film division for the rather ludicrous brawl at Raw with Rousey, Flair and Lynch going all out to demonstrate their disdain for each other. While the whole deal was well-executed, the suspension of disbelief required reached new heights. Despite various assaults on each other, security, police and police vehicles that would seem to qualify as felonies that ultimately saw the trio of women hauled off in handcuffs to be taken to jail, they were released quickly and will still be able to wrestle tonight with little apparent legal consequence. Batista responded to Triple H’s acceptance of his stipulation for their bout this evening and the Revival retained their tag straps with a count out ending against Ricochet and Black. That would seem to lead to a rematch for tonight, but they are instead defending against New York boys Ryder and Hawkins, who have not won a match as a team since reuniting in another questionable example of booking logic as to how they could possibly be considered the top contenders for the title.
Kofi Kingston’s contract signing somehow avoided the normal deterioration those things have traditionally encountered as they went off the air on Smackdown with Daniel Bryan sizzling in his seat and eventually standing, but not brawling with his opponent for tonight. Many fans expect a slew of happy endings this evening, including Kofi getting the title, Rollins beating Lesnar, Lynch taking the measure of Rousey and Flair and Hawkins ending his losing streak, but Vince always likes to change likely finishes and have some surprises for the card. As of deadline, there was still no indication of what John Cena will be doing at Mania, nor is there any word on an Undertaker appearance or any confirmation of a Gronk sighting. Time will tell as the evening plays out, but time itself should be no great problem, as the show tonight could be the longest one in Mania history with about a seven hour window (including the two hour pre-show) likely to be fully utilized.
Johnny Gargano captured the NXT title at this past Friday night’s NXT Takeover New York show in front of a record crowd at the Barclay’s Center by defeating Adam Cole despite outside interference by fellow members of the Undisputed Era in what was one of the top matches anywhere this year. The back and forth affair is well worth going out of your way to see on the WWE Network and would get five stars here if the Insider rated wrestling matches.
Jim Ross, the memorable play-by-play voice of many major WWE events, has confirmed signing a three-year contract with the new All Elite Wrestling promotion to be an announcer and senior advisor. No word yet on what network the new group might find itself on, but Ross will give it some instant credibility, knows several key aspects of the personnel side of the business and will likely lean toward presenting an athletic, sports oriented product with few logistical booking holes. In other words, many pro wrestling fans who are on the back nine will be looking forward to seeing what AEW has to offer after having to suffer through some of the less entertaining “sports entertainment” that we have been getting in recent years.